December 3, 2001

Leonard Cohen – Ten New Songs

by Shlomo Sher

Contributed by Stranger Management and Friends

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I never understood why people think of Leonard Cohen's songs as the soundtrack of suicide, cause if this is all you know of Leonard Cohen, oh man are you missing the world! Do you know the sensual Cohen? The romantic? The spiritual? The sublime? My personal favorite musician and lyricist for the past 10 years? If you don't know Leonard Cohen (and you can never know enough of him!), his newest release may do wonders for your soul.

Rising up from the Montreal underground to acclaim as a poet and then a writer, Leonard Cohen brought with him the poet's lyrical intensity and emotional, intellectual depth to the music career he suddenly decided to pursue in 1967. The dark folk poetics coupled with flamenco-based guitar, chanson francaise backups vocals, and passionate sensuality resulted in his first Best Of album only 2 years later. My first Cohen album was his very first - Songs (1967). It changed my life in its deepest most meaningful corners. To me Leonard Cohen's evolved from poet to lover to uncle and then finally to Rabbi. Rabbi Cohen L. is how he's become known to me over these last few years. His voice moves slow, hoarse and deep. He's soulful, spiritual, sensual, seeking, and wise to the light and darkness of living.

And this is pretty much the kind of sermon the Rabbi delivers in his first CD in 10 years, simply titled Ten New Songs. Do the 5 years he's spent in a Buddhist monastery outside Los Angeles since his last album performing minial tasks and meditating come out in this dark lush creation? You be the judge. The songs are lush, sensual and in soulful tension between pain and passion. In other words, nothing soft and new agey or fatalistic (via Buddhism) in this creation. The Rabbi barely even sings the words in these songs, but rather lets them drop from his lips, each one so heavy with personal and universal meaning. His thin, but powerful masculinity is softened by the seductive gentleness of Sharon Robinson, his backup singer collaborater, who's incredible vocals play almost an equal role in the spell cast by just about every single song on this album. And oh, the music, yeah, it's pretty much perfect in its role of supporting the vocals which make their way through it.

I first heard Leonard Cohen's voice in the movie Pump Up the Volume (1990), my senior year in high school. The movie just fit so well with my own teenage discontent, but in the background was that dark and haunting voice that was so far above mere teenage malcontent. At the time, and maybe throughout so much of the 90s, we were struggling against the trivialization of everything sacred and real by the media and marketing machines. The Rabbi remained untouched, and drifted through those times and even after his songs were used in Natural Born Killers, his words remained wise and sacred and far from over-marketed.

Ten years later, Ten New Songs is something some of us have been waiting for a long, long time. I've heard this album virtually back to back almost 100 times in the past 2 weeks. It's quickly become my favorite Cohen, L. album since the early 70s. It's as if the Rabbi's gathered the wisdom of his age and crafted it into a sacred blanket that wraps itself around you and reminds you that good or bad, life can be oh so so far from trivial.

And maybe this is a thought to those who would die by the voice of the Rabbi. Life is a manifold. Love is sacred. Suffering intertwines with hope. There’s nothing trivial about any of this.

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